In a commencement speech at West Point yesterday, President Obama argued for a balanced approach to foreign policy that deployed military force when U.S. "core interests demand it," but relied primarily on U.S. diplomacy and aid in concert with our allies. President Obama acknowledged that there are critics on both sides. Some, he said, cautioned against "foreign entanglements," arguing that conflicts in Syria or Ukraine or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve." Others, the President said, argue that "America's failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future." Here is a round-up of reaction to the President's speech.
The New York Times. Missed opportunity.
"The address did not match the hype, was largely uninspiring, lacked strategic sweep and is unlikely to quiet his detractors, on the right or the left.... [He] provided little new insight into how he plans to lead in the next two years, and many still doubt that he fully appreciates the leverage the United States has even in a changing world."
The Washington Post. Binds America's hands on foreign affairs.
"This binding of U.S. power places Mr. Obama at odds with every U.S. president since World War II. In effect, he ruled out interventions to stop genocide or reverse aggression absent a direct threat to the U.S. homeland or a multilateral initiative. Those terms would exclude missions by previous administrations in places such as Somalia and Haiti."
John Cassidy, The New Yorker. Reluctant realist.
"Most Americans already know about and support Obama's approach, which involves repudiating the Bush Administration's military adventurism, but, nonetheless, remaining committed to prosecuting the war on terror by more covert methods; paying lip service, but not much more than that, to humanitarian interventionism; and, above all else, avoiding getting entangled in another Iraq or Afghanistan."
Michael Crowley, TIME. Obama's public-opinion driven foreign policy.
"Obama is a multilateralist, who believes in cooperating with allies and international bodies like the United Nations and the Arab League. He's also risk averse: Obama would rather do too little than too much, as in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan."
David Ignatius, The Washington Post. Cogent, but lacks follow-through.
"Obama articulated the right structure for U.S. foreign policy going forward. He stressed the need for partnerships and multilateral action, except in those extreme cases where U.S. interests are directly at stake.... But Obama ignored the 'follow-through' part of U.S. power: Surely he can see that al-Qaeda regained control of Fallujah this year in part because America walked away from Iraq in 2010."
Peter Bergen, CNN, Judicious restraint.
"A foreign policy of judicious restraint that doesn't sacrifice core American interests is not the sort of foreign policy that lends itself well to emotional rhetoric. But that's exactly Obama's point; it is American hubris and overreach since World War II in wars such as Vietnam and Iraq that cost the nation dearly in blood and treasure, while doing little to protect America's core interests."
David Frum, The Atlantic. False choices.
"If Obama had met his stated goals in Afghanistan ... if the Russia 'reset' had worked ... if Iran talks were indeed producing nuclear disarmament ... if the president's 'red line' in Syria was not being crossed and recrossed like center-ice in an exciting hockey game ... if his Libyan intervention had not resulted in Libya becoming a more violent and unstable place ... if his administration had sustained the progress toward peace in Iraq achieved during George W. Bush's second term--if all this had been the case, the president would have been content to simply present his impressive record. But it is not the case."
Tara Sonenshine, Former Undersecretary of State. A multi-faceted toolbox.
"Using all of America's assets--beyond just military prowess--makes sense to those of us who believe that smart engagement extends our values and interests and furthers security while ensuring that we are not dragged into unnecessary wars. It also lends credence to the notion that America's friend and allies will share some of the burdens of global leadership if they know America is committed to playing a positive role on the international stage."
Michael Breen, Truman National Security Project, A strong international community.
"Today's speech lays out President Obama's intentions to fully reclaim the strategy that made America a world leader; and that strategy is building, leading, and defending a strong international community of free people and free societies."